Wednesday, December 23, 2009

AT&T Pre-paid SIM Card for LG Eve GW620

I went across the border to Washington state yesterday to buy a AT&T pre-paid SIM card for my unlocked LG GW620 Eve Android phone. I did some research on different carriers and found that AT&T was my best choice for a GSM network with 3G data access for pre-paid accounts. Despite the Verizon advertisements that like you to believe otherwise, coverage was actually better than some other carriers I checked out. (Verizon is not GSM so I didn't consider them at all.)

On eBay, you can buy a AT&T pre-paid SIM card for just under $10. I decided to take my chances and stop at a kiosk at a mall since I was going down to the US to do some shopping anyway. I was pleasantly surprised that the SIM card was free. All they asked for was my first and last name (no ID required) and they scanned my phone for the IMEI number. And that was it. No charge, no fuss. They told me to buy minutes at the Radio Shack in the mall. I bought $100 because that would give me 1 year before it expired.

Once the minutes were added, I had phone access right away. Data access did not come as easily. I found out that I need to add a data package for $5 for 1MB (or $20 for 100MB) before I could access the 3G network. That was simple enough to do, but I still could not download any data. Since the LG GW620 Eve is currently sold only in Canada, the AT&T support could not give me specific help. I found the Mobile Networks settings on the LG GW620 and discovered that it was still trying to connect to a Rogers Access Point. When I called 611 again and asked for the Access Point Name (APN) I was transfered to 2nd level Tech Support, but after 30 minutes, they still couldn't find the info I needed. I'm sure they were trying to run an emulator to find the settings on a similar phone, but of course there way no other AT&T LG phone similar to it.

Lucky for me, I discovered that there was a AT&T store close to the Best Buy I was parked at. I went in, showed them the screen with the info I needed, and gave the clerk my phone. He knew exactly what to look for, punched a few buttons on his keyboard and entered the info into my phone. I had 3G access as soon as he handed the phone back to me! Whoo, hoo!

We travel in the US during the summer quite frequently so the pre-paid AT&T card will be much more economical than paying Rogers' outrageous roaming fees for voice and data.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Unlock LG Eve GW620 Android Phone

After many years of resisting, I recently jumped into the world of cell phone ownership and purchased the new LG Eve GW620. It's the first Android phone from LG and Canada is one of the first countries in the world to receive it. I'm not a big talker, but I wanted the phone for the 3G data access and the ability to run different apps.

I already own a 32GB iPod Touch so the natural transition would have been to get an iPhone 3GS. However, restrictive Apple policies (regarding their products and App store) as well as the high cost of the iPhone ($300 for the 32GB, even with a 3-year contract) turned me off.

The LG Eve GW620 cost $50 with a 3-year contract but I got it basically for free because it came from Costco with a $75 gift card and a car charger as a bonus. Rogers has a current promotion right now selling the Eve for $0.99 with no activation fee and a $50 gift card. A much better value than the iPhone where no bonuses or deals are offered.

The Android market isn't as extensive as the the App Store, but I see the potential with open source and the power of Google. I've been able to find an app to suit all my needs and I like how the phone can run multiple apps at the same time.

It comes installed with Android 1.5 but there are people who have already figured out how to root the LG GW620 and are now working on getting Android 2.0 running on it. They're making good progress and I can't wait to see what they can do. The LG GW620 will be released in the Czech Republic in early 2010 January, and in the Netherlands and the UK in late January which means even more potential for the phone.

So far I'm very pleased with the LG GW620. There was a bit of a learning curve making the transition from iPod Touch user interface. I'm not patient enough to read the owner's manual, but after some quality quiet time playing with the phone I was able to customize it the way I wanted. I really like the way apps can be organized on the phone much better than the vast mess of pages that are on the iPhone. The LG Eve GW620 has a slide-out keyboard with a very solid feel. It also has a 5.0 megapixel camera with a built-in flash and facial recognition. For some reason, though, it still seems to take blurry pictures. I'll have to take some shots under good conditions to see how the camera performs. The screen is smaller than on the iPhone but it's acceptable. I miss the ability to double-tap on the the web browser to zoom in and out of sections of the page.

I bought an unlock code off of eBay for $6 and unlocked the LG GW620 because I'm planning on buying a pre-paid SIM card when I go travelling in the US. The procedure to unlock the phone is really easy:

  1. Find the phone's 15-digit IMEI number by pressing *#06# on the dialer.
  2. Submit the IMEI number to the seller to get the unlock code.
  3. When you get the unlock code, enter 2945#*620# on the dialer.
  4. You are allowed 10 attempts to unlock the phone. Enter the unlock code and when the phone reboots it is unlocked.
To confirm that the phone is unlocked, the next time you enter 2945#*620# on the dialer, the phone will say "Your phone is not personalized."

Nice and simple! My favorite app right now? Foursquare :0)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Subaru Pulls Out Truck

This is what makes a Subaru, a Subaru!

Thanks to Tijmen Fongers for finding this awesome video for me :0)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter Rims Mounted - GMC Yukon Denali 30743 km

Winter Rims Mounted
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I put the winter tires back onto our 2007 GMC Yukon Denali XL this morning. It wasn't the ordeal it was last year, but it was snowing/hailing lightly while I was doing it. I don't know if we'll see the record snowfalls again, but the local ski hills and Whistler Mountain have all opened their season early.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day 2009

Our Duty Done, originally uploaded by istargazer.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)

Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
This is my Halloween costume this year. I made the mask to go with my grim reaper robe so that I could be the Blue Screen of Death. I also made an "Any" button prop that I could dare people to press :0) Of course, after I finished making the costume Thursday morning, I got an email from admin that we wouldn't be allowed to wear masks at work. Bummer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

VW R32: Cute

I'd heard the description before, but the other day was the first time I'd heard in person my R described as "cute".

I wasn't at all bothered or anything, merely taken back for half a second, thinking to myself, really?

I just don't see it. But that doesn't matter, does it? Cuteness is in the eye of the beholder.

I wonder if anyone's described a STI as cute....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I was just looking at the stats on my Flickr account and discovered something interesting. For some reason, this particular picture--out of all the 900+ pictures I've uploaded--has the most views of all. As of this post, it has been viewed 26,787 times (not including myself). I wonder why that is because it hasn't generated as many comments or favorites as some of my other pictures.

Version 2: Was it a dream?

Version 2: Was it a dream?
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I watched an episode of Test Drive on the Speed channel this afternoon on the new 4-door Porsche Panamera. I've seen it a few times now on different shows and being on the Porsche mailing list I've seen the official literature on it, too. The look is growing on me, although I do like the view mostly either full-frontal or directly from the rear. The side profile has some nice aspects, but the overall look definitely takes some getting used to.

For some reason, it made me really, really miss my 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Camp

Thanksgiving Camp
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
We left home after I got off work on Friday to go RVing in our Tango trailer. It would be our last trip of the year before putting the RV into storage for the winter and would mark the 29th night of camping in 2009. A pretty good number if I say so myself!

It took us almost an hour to get over the Port Mann Bridge, but traffic was pretty smooth after that. We got to the campground after dark and I had the hardest time backing the trailer. I could not see a thing back there and because I didn't remove the trunnion bars, I was paranoid about turning too sharply and breaking them off like I did earlier in the summer. It was actually my first time doing it in the dark and after a couple of failed attempts, a couple of neighbors, Mark and Steven, helped guide me into position. Without their help it would have been a very long night for us!

The weather for the weekend was clear and sunny but cold because of the arctic air that came in from the north. Overnight temperatures were near freezing but the fire kept us warm when we were outside and the furnace did the same when we were in the trailer.

Of course the swimming pool was closed for the season so we spent our afternoons shopping at Target and Walmart. We even went to an awesome party supply store for the kids' Halloween costumes. They had just about everything you could think of. I bought myself some "X-ray Vision" glasses for the next time the school has a crazy-glasses day. The jumping pillow at the KOA was free and the kids were able to work off some energy at the playground after we got back from shopping. It was our first Thanksgiving away from home and it was nice spending it by the fire.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ballet Nouveau Colorado: Intersection

I was honored to receive a request that my photos be used in a contemporary ballet called Intersection that will be performed in Denver, Colorado area later this month. Very cool!

Dear istargazer,

I would like to request the use of your photography under the Creative Commons license you have applied to your work.

My name is Garrett Ammon, and I am the Artistic Director of Ballet Nouveau Colorado. I am currently in the process of creating a new contemporary ballet, in collaboration with Poet Michael J. Henry, entitled Intersection. The ballet will be an evening length work incorporating poetry, music and dance, as well as projections of photographs, video and text. The ballet will be presented in the denver area from October 30 through November 8, 2009.

Your photography will be incorporated into projections that will be displayed across two screens above the stage and/or on a television that will be utilized during the performance.

Your screen name (and your full name if you would like) and the URL(s) of your photography will be printed in the program. I will also be maintaing a growing collection of flickr galleries that will include all of the photographs that will be appearing in the ballet.

All I can offer in return is my gratitude and thanks for your generosity. I would also like to offer complimentary tickets to a performance of Intersection, if you happen to be in the Denver area at the time of the production.

With great appreciation,

Garrett Ammon
Artistic Director, Ballet Nouveau Colorado

To learn more about me and Ballet Nouveau Colorado visit:

To learn more about my collaborator, Poet Michael J. Henry, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop visit:

You can see a photo gallery of my previous collaboration with Michael here:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali Fuel Consumption: July '09

These are my July fuel consumption stats for our 2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali. Sorry it's late. Click the thumbnail to see the full view.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Dynex® - 22" Class / 720p / 60Hz / LCD HDTV Model: DX-L22-10A

It's hard to buy local when Gordon Campbell's BC Liberals continue to deceive its citizens and increase taxes with things like the proposed HST. Because of that, I will be spending my tourist dollars outside of BC.

We took an extended trip down to Oregon and took advantage of no sales tax to save a lot of money on a basic TV for our travel trailer RV. I originally bought one locally here at a Best Buy in Canada. It was a 19" Insignia (another Best Buy brand) LCD TV that was $200, which I thought was reasonable. Plus, I had some Reward Dollars saved up that would have made it cheaper to buy up north.

However, after trying it out on our next camping trip in Washington state, I discovered that it lacked a digital tuner. Having no digital tuner made it useless to me because the US switched over to digital-only broadcasts earlier this year. I checked the other products in stores in Canada and anything with a digital tuner cost significantly more. On top of that the BC government charges a recycling fee to the cost of any TV--in this case, $25. I also wasn't happy with the size because it looked as if there was space for a larger TV. The 22" Dynex was on sale for $220 USD, no sales tax and no levy made it a super killer deal.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

VW R32: Sharan antenna

One of the first things I changed on my R was the stock antenna -- it reminded me of those long metal wires sticking out the top of old trains and buses that connect to overhead electric cables. The problem with installing a different antenna, though, was that most that caught my eye ended up touching the rear spoiler when the hatch was open.

For a little more than 5 years I made do with a S2000 antenna lookalike and an angle adapter. Still, in addition to being difficult to line up properly, with time the adapter became floppy and no longer performed the purpose for which it was intended -- preventing the antenna from touching the spoiler.

See below the fold for more and pics.

Back in the day I'd considered the VW Sharan antenna, but it was always out of stock at Hillside Imports. Why not order it from a dealership? First, the Sharan isn't sold in the U.S. or Canada. Second, I believe there's some sort of modification required with the threads to make the Sharan antenna fit the antenna base of a 2004 R32.

Anywhoo, a couple weeks ago I discovered the Sharan antenna was in stock.

Monday, August 03, 2009

VW R32: VentureShield

I decided it's much cheaper to install clear sticker on the R than having to have it repainted. I had some VentureShield clear sticker installed on the front of the R. It covers the front part of the hood, the HIDs, front bumper, and part of the front fenders. So far I'm pretty happy with it. As a bonus, the sticker makes washing off bugs pretty easy.

I like how the HIDs look with sticker, removing the need for the Lexan covers; I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, though. I just have some slight difficulty wrapping my mind around the notion that a piece of flexible plastic sticking directly to the HIDs is as or even more protective than solid plastic sitting in front, not against, the HIDs.

Click below the fold for pictures.

The arrows in this first pic indicate the edges of the clear sticker.

The VentureShield is invisible a short distance away.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

VW R32: Front Repaint

A short while back the cornucopia of rock chips on the R's front reached my personal I-will-pay-good-money threshold. Being new to the area, I went with a local dealership's recommendation for a good paint shop.

My entire front bumper was like this:

This OEM spotted bumper was painted and installed at Karen Radley VW (under warranty, which was another issue) in Virginia. Actually, the dealership sent the bumper to a local shop to be painted. I still blame Karen Radley VW, though, for using a shop that produces such pitiable work.

See below the fold for the "after" pic.

I think everyone would agree it looks much better, now, after the paint job at Ontario Auto Collision CARSTAR:

Monday, July 20, 2009

2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali Fuel Consumption

I found a great iPhone/iPod Touch app at the iTunes store for keeping track of fuel consumption and automobile expenses called Road Trip. One of the best things I like about it is that I can enter either gallons or litres and whether or not I fill the tank and it will keep track of all sorts of stats and show me my fuel consumption in either mpg or L/100 km. You can then export all of this data into a spreadsheet through email. I find it easier to simply take a screenshot on my Touch and upload it here, which I plan on doing on a monthly basis from now on. This particular screen shows all the accumulative data since I first bought the Denali back in August 2008.

Click the thumbnail above to see the full stats. You can see that the fuel consumption is not great. On the highway I was able to get an average of around 14 mpg, but in the city where I do most of my driving I get around 10 mpg. Such is the cost of living at the top of a mountain. You can also see that on my last fill-up I averaged only 8 mpg. That was the fuel that I used to go on our camping trip to Concrete, WA with our 30' travel trailer. Such is the cost of having fun!

The most surprising stat to me was how much fuel the Denali costs me since I've owned it: almost $9 per day. And that includes the days that I'm not driving!

Trip Report: Concrete/Grandy Creek KOA

Concrete/Grandy KOA: 2 nights, Site #91
Coming back from Everett, I had the urge to get out on the road again and thought it would be nice to go for a couple of nights before the weekend. There was nothing available at Sunnyside so we took a chance calling the KOA campground in Concrete, WA. It's only about 2 hours away from our home and we had heard good things about it....

This trip started out a bit differently because the trailer was actually in storage. Since the trailer was already equipped with just about everything we needed, we thought it would be simple to just pack the clothes and food we wanted into the Denali, load up at the storage yard and leave from there. It didn't go quite that smoothly though, because that morning after stopping at the Costco in Port Coquitlam for fuel, I realized that I had forgotten the RV keys at home. Luckily, we were only 15-minutes away. In the end, we wereg only 30-minutes behind our original schedule. There was a 90-minute wait at the Peace Arch border crossing, but with our NEXUS passes we were able to breeze right through. There was a bit of a tight turn after the checkpoint, but I was able to make it with the trailer.

One of the great advantages of having the trailer is having a clean, comfortable place to rest and relax where ever we happen to be. Our first stop was at the Custer Rest Area just south of Blaine. It's the first rest stop after the border and we stopped there for lunch, just like we did on our Everett trip.

Concrete, WA is just east of Burlington on Highway 20. It's a very nice campsite with large full hook-up spots, as well as a swimming pool, playground, and jumping pillow that the kids had fun with. What was nice about this stay was that this really was an exploration for us to venture somewhere strictly for the campground amenities. No shopping, no tourist activities. It was great. We're going back again for 3 nights next time--without a sewer hookup. Hopefully, that won't turn out to be too adventurous!
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

VFD Bikers for Burns Ride

VPD Motorcycles
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
My wife and I went on this charity bike ride at the end of June. It was a great day and marred only because I thought I had lost one of my memory cards. Luckily, I found it just the other day and have been busily uploading the pictures.

This is a picture of the Vancouver Police motorcycles. The VPD were really great because they gave a police escort for the group of riders all the way through Vancouver, onto Highway #1 and across the Golden Ears Bridge. It was a weird feeling not stopping for red lights!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Trip Report: Lakeside RV, Everett, WA

Lakeside RV Park: 3 Nights
12321 Hwy 99, Everett, WA 98204

Talk about contrasts! From our very first camping trip into the lush forests around Cultus Lake, BC we went to our next destination of urban pavement: Lakeside RV Park off of Highway 99 in Everett, Washington. To be fair, after first impressions of the "neighborhood", the place was quite livable and suited our goal of being close to shopping. In fact, we got a water-view "lake" side spot right next to the fishing pond. We did lots of time at Camping World, Walmart, and Target as well as doing a little shopping at an outlet mall, and I was able to install and setup a few more things on our travel trailer.

Click the thumbnail below to see more photos.
2009 Everett

I got to climb up on top of the roof of the travel trailer for the first time to install the MaxxAir II vent cover. It allows us to keep the vent open without letting water come in through the opening. I'll need to get up there a few more times because I'd like to get another vent cover for our bathroom vent.

I'm glad to say that the Denali handled the extra load quite well on the I-5. It had no problem keeping to the speed limit of up to 70 mph and had passing power when needed. It drove like a big rig, but never felt unstable.

As for trailer life, there were several things I learned this trip. It was our first pull-through site and I learned that I could even mess that up! In my excitement I forgot to make a wide enough turn into our spot and I ended up brushing some trees on the left. Back when we were off-roading in the Sequoia, we would brush against trees and shrubs as we drove down narrow trails. We proudly called them "BC pinstripes." On the trailer they're just embarassing! Luckily, I was able to rub them out when I got home.

The other thing I learned was because of where the hookups were, we needed an extension to our 15' sewer line. It was nice that Walmart was so close and they had a good collection of RV accessories for us to use. It took me a while to get the hoses connected because our rigid Rhino hose didn't mate well to the flexible extension that I bought. Even though it worked fine, I went back to Camping World to buy a 10' Rhino extension for us to use the next time. I also bought some Lynx Levelers from Walmart that I needed for our Cultus Lake trip last week. For the most part I think we're setup for just about everything now.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Trip Report: Sunnyside Campground Cultus Lake BC

Sunnyside Campground: 2 Nights

The maiden voyage in our Tango RV travel trailer was a great success. There were a lot of "firsts" for us and the kids, but we all had great fun--despite my returning home with a minor concussion and whiplash! More on that later.

We left home on July 1st, Canada Day holiday morning. It took me a while to get hitched up again after only doing for the first time over a week earlier. We finally got on the road around 10:30-ish and went over the Port Mann Bridge to the commercial truck scales to weigh ourselves. After a brief stop in the empty parking lot of an Abbotsford church for lunch, we arrived at Sunnyside Campground in Cultus Lake early in the afternoon.

Despite waiting an hour so that we could get "Twilight" admission to the Cultus Lake Water Slides (4 hours of playtime from 2:30 to closing) it still cost our whole family over $90 to get in. To me, it wasn't worth it because most of the time is spent waiting in lines, but the kids loved it. I went on the Valley of Fear with Kendra and when they told me to keep my chin down and butt off the bottom, I leaned backwards and hit my head going down. I had a headache for the rest of the night and the next day my neck muscles were so sore I could barely turn my head!

Camping at Sunnyside was much more fun. There were lots of trees and a fire pit for us to roast hotdogs and marshmallows over. The kids playground was modern and the local store had just about everything a camper would need. After the water slides, we walked down to the private beach and had a swim there. It was very enjoyable and I can see us going back some day.

It was very interesting walking through the camping area and seeing how different people set up their sites. It gave us ideas for what we wanted to get for our next trip out. Some of the things we want to get is a small axe (for making kindling), a sewer hose support system (to keep it off the ground and angled in the right direction), and some leveling boards because I could not level the trailer without lifting the wheels. I specifically did not buy them for this trip because I knew they were much cheaper in the USA, but I didn't realize the importance of them until we arrived at our camp.
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

7th Annual Vancouver Firefighter's Bikers for Burns Ride

Originally uploaded by istargazer.
My wife and I took part in the 7th Annual Vancouver Firefighter's Bikers for Burns ride today. It started in Vancouver at the Flying Swan Cafe and followed a route that included going over the new Golden Ears Bridge and continuing on to Harrison Hot Springs where there was a motorcycle stunt show to end the day. There were over 270 motorcycles and it was a great ride. What was really cool was that we got a police escort all the way to Maple Ridge. We got waved through intersections and the VPD even did rolling road blocks for us on Highway 1! On top of that I won a t-shirt and a hat registration prize!

The only damper to the day was the discovery that I had lost one of my SD cards. It had pictures from the first half of the day including pics of the Burgman and the Vancouver Police Motorcycles. I do have some video footage that I'll upload soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Barker VIP 3000 Electric Tongue Jack Installed

From RV Mods and Accessories
An electric tongue jack seems to be a very popular modification especially with the larger trailers. The idea of cranking the jack up and down didn't appeal to me and after doing it the first day we towed the trailer I could say that I had "been there, done that." The Barker 3000 offers a 3000 lb lifting capacity as well as a built-in LED light (for hooking up at night) and a bubble level. I have to tell you, being able to lift and drop the trailer with the tip of my finger is a true pleasure.

A few additional pictures are available here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Digital Programmable Thermostat Installed in RV

From RV Mods and Accessories
When I found out that it was possible to install a regular household thermostat into the RV travel trailer, I knew it would be one of the first mods I would attempt. At first I didn't want to get a programmable model, but the selection available at RONA was very slim. The non-programmable ones were actually more expensive than the programmable ones. This particular one was one of the cheaper ones but it has a bonus of having a humidity display as well as separate temperature and programming displays. In fact, it's much fancier than the digital programmable one I installed in my home 9 years ago!

Full details of the install in our travel trailer is posted here: Tango Hotel Mod: Digital Programmable Thermostat

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tango Hotel: Tango 289BH RV Travel Trailer

I finally had our 2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali setup for towing and got some time on Friday to pull home our new 30-foot travel trailer--which I nicknamed "Tango Hotel." The original plan was to keep it for one night and bring it back the next day, but our schedule was so busy that instead of rushing the next day, we decided to keep the trailer for the rest of the week. It actually worked out well because we were able to sleep in the trailer for two nights. It allowed us to get familiar with how everything worked in the trailer and start to setup everything the way that we wanted. I got a chance to complete some modifications and one of the first things I did was replace the old fashioned RV thermostat with a modern digital programmable thermostat.

I've got a few more mods that I want to do before we live for our first trip next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller Installed: 20700 km

Our RV dealer initially installed the Tekonsha P3 brake controller under the dash to the right of the steering wheel but there's not much clearance there in our 2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali. With it angled up and my seat moved back a little, there was just enough room so my leg wouldn't rub against it. But I didn't like it. If there unforeseen forward movement, the Tekonsha would be firmly embedded in my shin. Besides, I couldn't see the display nor could I easily reach the manual control on the bottom of the P3. On top of that, they used the permanent bracket mount. There is no switched power in the Denali. Everything is on all the time. Even though the P3 has a built-in power-save mode, after the battery troubles I had on the Denali, I didn't want to risk it. So I removed the permanent bracket and installed the second bracket provided by Tekonsha to the left of the parking brake release and solved all my problems. It is now easy to see, easy to access, and easy to remove. Since Tekonsha provides a carrying case for the P3, why not use it?

One of the neat features of the P3 is that you can change the LCD screen colours to match your vehicles interior. Too bad the Denali has old-school green dials in the dash.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reese Weight Distributing Hitch with Trunnion Bars and Dual Cam Sway Control

I had a weight distributing hitch installed on our travel trailer today. It looks like a fairly simple setup to use. I'm anxious to try it out but our schedule is so busy right now that we'll need to wait a few more days.

In the meantime, we've bought a few things to equip the trailer including some wheel chocks and a power tongue jack that I'll need to install. I have a list of other things I want to get, but with prices in Canada about double the price it is in the US, it's hard to make purchases.

We've planned our second camping trip for south of the border so that we can pick up things that we need.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Wiki @ Stargazer's Garage

The Wiki @ Stargazer's Garage

I created a wiki to better organize the information posted on our blog. It is an archive of the specifications and modifications of the different vehicles that have occupied Stargazer's Garage as well as the experiences of ownership. I think it will be easier to have everything like mods, links, and resources all in one location rather than in separate blog posts all over the place.

I'll still be posting my most immediate updates on Twitter and I'll use the blog to give more detailed information. The wiki will be used as an archive to gather all the info from the blog posts.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Shakedown: Sunnyside Campground Cultus Lake

Sunnyside Campground Cultus Lake BC

The date has been set. Our spot has been reserved. The destination for our very first RV trip, the "Shakedown" trip, will be a campground within walking distance of the Cultus Lake Waterslides. A tip that I've read in every RV book and website is to take a short 2-3 day trip in the RV at the beginning of the season before you head off for a long trip. That way you can make sure that everything is working and deal with any issues close to home before you hit the road. The is commonly called the shakedown trip. Having never been RVing before, I feel that we still have a long journey before we get to that point with our new travel trailer. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 Tango 289BH Travel Trailer

We jumped through another hoop today and the financing has been approved for our new 2009 Tango Travel Trailer. We're another step closer to parking this behemoth on our driveway.

Overall, we must have looked at over 25 different RVs over this past month. This particular Tango happened to be the very first one we saw when we started this journey. On that first day, it was shown to us as a high-end trailer with high-quality materials throughout. But the $33000+ CAD list price was a lot of money.

The sales person showed us different trailers and configurations (even used ones) until we reached an entry-level double-bunk model with slides that was very reasonably priced. We left the lot that day with a handful of brochures and our heads about to explode.

We went to other RV dealers and looked at many more models and realized that there were certain things we liked and didn't like....

Click below to read more.

Some things just seemed to be standard issue so we didn't concern ourselves with items like a refrigerator, microwave, stove, oven, air conditioning, shower/toilet, awning, stereo/DVD player, and dinette.

  • Queen bed for us
  • bunk beds for the kids
  • sofa bed
  • comfortable shower and toilet
  • lots of well organized storage areas
  • must feel open and spacious with or without a slide

Didn't Likes
  • 70's era decor
  • old-fashioned looking aluminum sides
  • cheap looking material and finishing
  • having to use the dinette as a sleeping area

Of course, everything that we wanted also had to come under our maximum towing capacity of 7800 lbs.

We even got to look inside some legendary Airstream trailers. Those were truly beautiful with modern airy interiors and thoughtful designs. Unfortunately, even the smallest of Airstream trailers were reaching our towing limit. Oh, yeah, they also listed at over $70,000!

Tango brand trailers are built by Pacific Coachworks in Riverside, California. The quality of materials and construction and the abundance of storage areas as well as the large bunk area really drew us back to the Tango. Also, we decided that we didn't want a slide because it would add additional weight to the trailer and we wanted to be as compact as you could possibly be in a 30' trailer.

So at the Coquitlam Center, when we saw that the Tango had been further reduced in price and after seeing all the other trailers at a higher cost even though the materials were inferior and the decor was beyond retro (venturing into grand-motherly), it was easy to take the step towards ownership. The Tango trailer also comes with exterior speakers and a power awning.

Here are a few pictures of the interior taken from Pacific Coachworks' web site.

Main living area showing the kitchen, dinette, and sofa:


Close-up of the sofa with the bedroom behind:


Queen bed:


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Miserable Failure

Well, once again there was a pathetic voter turnout in the May 12 BC provincial election and the referendum for proportional representation failed miserably.

Talking to some colleagues afterwards, I found out they voted "No" because they didn't completely understand what it was about. Kinda sad, really.

I don't see voter turnout in BC improving any time soon or in the distant future because without proportional representation, my vote in this riding is pointless.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A New Addition to Stargazer's Garage: Tango RV!

This has been an exciting weekend for us because we just added a new member to our (virtual) garage: a 2009 Tango Travel Trailer. (Being 30-feet long, it doesn't fit in our real garage.) While the idea of getting into RVing has been with me a long time, taking it seriously and acting upon it didn't start happening until about a month ago.

Since we had missed the spring RV shows, we stopped at our local RV dealership a few Saturdays ago for a look and we got a very informative and educational tour of different types of travel trailers. Our 2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali is the most tow-capable vehicle we've owned, and I wanted to see what a 7800 lb. trailer looked like. The sales person spent a lot of time showing us the entire spectrum of RVs from modern upscale to affordable entry-level. We learned about GVWR and towing limits, as well as about slides (not the ones we're used to that you find at playgrounds!), outdoor showers, and saw that there were almost infinite variety of floor plans available. The trick was to find something that suited our large family of 5 children with room to grow and still keep within the limits of our Denali's towing capacity.

The next weekend, we went out to the Langley By-pass to check out another RV place. While no salesperson was available to show us around, armed with the knowlege we gained the week before we were able to take a peek into some different trailers with different floor plans and make comparisons with what we liked and didn't like. We even got to explore the massive Class-A tour-bus-syle RVs and dream a little.

In that particular area of Langley, there is a cluster of RV dealers side-by-side and across from each other so in between dropping off and picking up our kids at various birthday parties we went back and visited 3 more RV places looking at even more trailers. While every single trailer we looked had the same basic features like a queen bed, dinette, kitchen, sofa bed, bathroom and bunks, each one also had unique way of arranging everything within the 26' to 32' lengths that we looked at. We even saw one with a triple-bunk. I thought it was quite coffin-like myself, but I imagine the kids would have loved something like that!

By the time this weekend came, I was almost RV'd out. I thought we would just leave it for awhile and think about tow limits and cargo capacities and sleeping arrangements... But Saturday morning after picking up one of our girls from a birthday party a Koko's in Port Moody, we drove by Coquitlam Center and saw they had an event with mulitple dealers displaying, cars, motorcycles, boats, and RVs. We just had to stop.

So now you can see the result. It's the end of the weekend and we spent our Sunday afternoon borrowing books about RVing for beginners and idiots like ourselves and taking measurements of every overhead cabinet trying to plan how we would be filling up and personalizing our very own portable hotel room.

I'll explain why we chose this Tango 289BH Travel Trailer by Pacific Coach Works over all the others in my next post. Having never ever pulled a trailer, let alone something this big, it's going to be quite an adventure this summer as we learn about the world of RV vacationing. There definitely will not be any "staycation" for us this summer because we're going to try to hit the road as often as we can while my wife and I both have this summer off. But before we go anywhere, I'm going to have to learn how to get this rig on the road without running over any small animals, shrubs, or light posts. I'll definitely keep track of my progress online. Wish me luck!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Photosynth: Torin Black Jack Low-profile Floor Jack

I was at a professional development work session today and someone showed us a video clip demonstrating some very cool technology called Photosynth. It's built with the technology of Seadragon and has the ability to create a model of reality built from the photo memories of the collective whole--very Borg-like! The individual members of the collective benefit by creating something more complex and rich than would have been very difficult if not impossible to do by themselves. One example shown was using photos found on Flickr to create the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Here's my simple attempt at making a synth of a floor jack I bought at Costco for R32Argent:

Click below to check out the TED video and see the demo yourself:

Jaw-dropping Photosynth Demo

Sunday, May 10, 2009

VW R32: O.Z. Crono HT Installed

I purchased some 5-spoke O.Z. Crono HT wheels for my summer tires a short while back. This weekend I finally installed them.

Click below the fold for pictures.

First, for easier comparison, this first picture is with the stock Aristos:

Now, the last two pictures are with the O.Z. wheels:

Me likey! I think the O.Z. wheels make the R look cleaner and a little more aggressive than the Aristos.

Monday, April 27, 2009

BC-STV Proportional Representation--Vote YES for Fair Results!

We have a chance to change the electoral system in BC on May 12 by voting YES for proportional representation. It is far superior than the traditional "First Past the Post" system where it's possible for a political party to win a majority government even without a majority of the popular vote.

With BC-STV Proportional Representation, people won't have to feel that their votes are "wasted" like it is now with the current system. May 12--Vote YES for fair election results!

Check out for more information.

Friday, April 24, 2009

ANZAC Day: April 25

It's been almost two years since I first uploaded this video, The Band Played Walzting Matilda by Eric Bogle. I have to admit that I didn't know very much about the Battle of Gallipoli at that time. I've learned more since then especially after reading people's comments about it I've grown an even deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by everyone.

Monday, April 20, 2009

420 Day: April 20

Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I took this picture almost 2 years ago shortly after I had the RCE Sport springs installed on my 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI. The location is a Park and Ride station and I thought it was an interesting spot. I had no idea the significance of "420" until someone posted a comment.

I had to google it to find the meaning to educate myself--LOL!

Anyway, there was a huge crowd in downtown Vancouver today commemorating the occasion.

2009 Lincoln MKZ - Shiny Toy Guns - Major Tom (Coming Home)

This song, a cover of Major Tom by a group called Shiny Toy Guns is played on a commercial for the 2009 Lincoln MKZ which you can see here.

This is the latest song to make it into my collection, but my iPod Touch went wonky this afternoon and became unreadable by iTunes. I had to restore the factory settings and am currently waiting while everything gets gets transferred from the backup. I don't know why what happened but I did notice the last couple of days that more apps were crashing on it. Hopefully, this will cure the symptoms, but right now I'm going through a little withdrawal from the iPhone apps :-P

Now playing: Shiny Toy Guns - Major Tom (coming home)
via FoxyTunes

VW R32: Importing a vehicle into Canada from the U.S.

I've posted previously that I imported my 2004 VW Golf R32 to Canada from the U.S. when I relocated to the Land of Tim Hortons; here I want to provide some of the details on an initially daunting but ultimately straight-forward process. It goes without saying (though I'm still saying it) that I'm describing my own experience with importing my R32 -- and my memory is already hazy -- and anyone planning on importing a vehicle in to Canada from the U.S. is advised to visit the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) and the U.S. Border Protection Agency (BPA) websites for the latest information.

Read more beneath the fold....

First things first: visit the RIV website for the link to the latest list of admissible vehicles, hosted by Transport Canada. The list will tell you what if any modifications to a stock vehicle are required for importation, and whether it can be imported at all. This list does get updated. For the first few years a 2004 R32 wasn't admissible, but now it is.

It's not necessary to make any modifications prior to importation but once you import the vehicle you have roughly 30-45 days to pass all inspections; hence depending on what's needed you might consider having everything done prior to importing the vehicle into Canada. Caveat: a stock R, despite what RIV computers say, does not require any modifications.

Assuming the vehicle is admissible, then find out which land crossing near you handles exporting/importing vehicles. Not all crossings do. You need to know this ahead of time because the U.S. BPA requires that when exporting a vehicle from the U.S. you need to fax them at least 72h prior (weekends and holidays don't count) a copy of the title. You can also ask for a fax confirmation receipt, which I didn't need but others have found handy. I went via the Queenston-Lewiston border crossing in Ontario.

Before crossing you will also need a Recall Clearance letter from the vehicle manufacturer dated not more than 30 days prior to the importation date. I ended up having to request two letters because my schedule was delayed. VW of America takes 5-7 business days to mail the letter. Also make sure you have the original title. If there are any liens then you will need letters from each lien holder stating that you can export the vehicle. Have the bill of sale and any related receipts ready in case they ask for them at the border.

So... now you have all the documentation you need. In addition, it might be nice to have an idea of what the resale value of the vehicle (eg. from KBB or similar) is in case the particular model is not in the CBSA computer system. My R was not.

Head to the appropriate border. You have to first stop on the U.S. side at the BPA office to which earlier you faxed a copy of your title. All the U.S. officer does is verify that the VIN on the vehicle matches the VIN on the title. No line-ups, it took less than 5 minutes.

Enter Canada.

Stop at the CBSA customs office. Bring in all your documentation. I had to pay tax and duties on the value of my R above $10,000. They accept credit cards. You will fill out a Form 1 and make sure you don't lose it (keep it in the car until you get Canadian tags). You need a Canadian mailing address to complete Form 1. Everything here took me 15-20 minutes.

Whew. Now you're in Canada, free and clear of the border. Mail, courier, fax, or hand deliver the Recall Clearance letter to the RIV office. I went to their office in person to move things along. Once RIV confirms payment of the processing fee (I paid online) and receives the Recall Clearance letter they will issue you an inspection form (Form 2) and a letter stating what if any modifications are required. Inspections and any modifications must be completed within 45 days. You can pick up the Form 2 when you drop off the Recall Clearance letter in person, or they will e-mail, fax, or mail it to the Canadian address you provided on Form 1.

According to the RIV letter my R needed a child safety restraint system installed -- my R already had them. Anywhoo, you need both safety and emission inspections. Safety is where they also check to see whether you've made any required modifications. You need to have done so to pass. I went to Canadian Tire for both inspections with Form 2 in hand. Safety is free, emissions cost me around $100 (?), maybe more. Once you've passed both tests the inspectors are supposed to fax the completed Form 2 to RIV themselves. Make sure you retain your copy.

When RIV receives the completed Form 2 they will mail you a sticker you need to place on the driver's door or door jam.

Once I received my RIV sticker I could now go and get Ontario tags. To get Ontario tags I first needed to get an Ontario drivers license. This took me one beeping hour standing in line, more money, driving records for the past 10 years and my Maryland driving license, which they confiscated.

Next I went to a CAA (Canada Automotive Association) office with my Ontario driving license, title, completed Form 2, proof of Canadian auto insurance, virtual cash in the form of credit, and after 30 minutes in line I walked out with a pair of Ontario plates. My R was now a Canadian citizen.


I think I've written all the important points up there. Nevertheless, just as the R was first inadmissible and then not, it's certainly worthwhile to obtain the latest information from official sources.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Volkswagen Golf VI Commercial: "The Fight"

Nice moves. Catchy song.

Zinga Warriorz - The Gun

I was searching YouTube tonight for a couple of songs I heard on some TV commercials when I happened to find this song: The Gun by the Zinga Warriorz. I'd never heard of them before and this is from a live recording they did in May 2007 at down 2 earth studios in Birmingham, UK. Pretty catchy and now living on my iPod.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

VW R32: O.Z. Crono HT

The stock Aristos on my R32 have been relegated to winter wheel status. In preparation for the other three seasons I purchased 18x8 O.Z. Crono HT wheels. I haven't installed them yet as it still hasn't been consistently warm (it snowed 6 days ago) in the Land of Tim Hortons.

I went with 5-spoke wheels because no matter how much I like how they look the 15-spoke Aristos are a pain to clean. The Crono HTs are also lighter at 19.5lbs a piece, compared to the hefty Aristos' 28-29lbs.

See below the fold for a picture.

I'll post more pics once I get these wheels installed.

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